Very few independent comic writers ever see the kind of crossover success that Bryan Lee O’Malley found with Scott Pilgrim. Six volumes, one video game and a Hollywood film later, O’Malley’s twenty-something slacker is one of the more recognisable comic book creations around. But when one character brings a writer that much success, it can threaten to define a career. So how do you follow it up? By disappearing for four years and creating something almost totally different.
Seconds, O’Malley’s latest work, is about second chances and offers him just that; a second chance and a fresh start. In place of fresh-faced, man-child Scott is successful restaurateur Kate, who is quickly approaching her thirtieth birthday and wondering where her twenties have gone like the protagonist of an LCD Soundsystem song. With the help of Lis, the house spirit who has attached herself to Katie’s restaurant Seconds, and her magic mushrooms; Katie is given the chance to undo any mistake she’s ever made. Suddenly being granted control of the time-space continuum and facing a quarter-life crisis, it’s no surprise that things quickly get out of hand.
It becomes evident quickly that, while O’Malley’s art style may still be playfully childish, his writing and reading tastes have matured significantly. Seconds is darker and more ambitious in tone and style than Scott Pilgrim and harks back to O’Malley’s debut, Lost at Sea. There’s less of a focus on individual characters in favour of a focus on plot, and though it could be argued this comes at the cost of some of the charm of O’Malley’s earlier work, it no longer threatens to collapse under the weight of its own pop culture references. In fact, thanks to some of the darker imagery and elements of the story, there’s a certain ‘memento mori’ element to Seconds that makes it as much about accepting one’s mortality as accepting maturity. With its chibi-inspired art and Brothers Grimm-influenced story, it resembles a morality tale for the millennial generation.
Try as he might to avoid it, the spirit of Scott Pilgrim is inescapable. Seconds should be praised as an attempt by a writer to explore a new direction but at times it can feel as though O’Malley is caught between two worlds, and there is no better example of this than the comic’s first page made up of two epigrams. The first is lines from Italian, post-modernist novel, If on a winter’s night a traveller. The second, lyrics from Over & Over the opening song of Fleetwood Mac’s late-seventies classic Tusk. O’Malley does a respectable job of combining a disparate mix of high-brow and pop-culture but it feels like it has its feet in two worlds, belonging to neither.
O’Malley should be commended for what he’s done with Seconds. It would have been easy for him to keep using the same formula, recreating the same product over and over. There’s bravery in striking off in attempting to strike out in a new direction, and while it may not have worked out just yet, it shows that O’Malley, just like his characters, has a newfound maturity. Most importantly though, he’s produced a good read.
Image property of Bryan Lee O’Malley